The traditional use of ergodic theory in the foundations of equilibrium statistical mechanics is that it provides a link between thermodynamic observables and microcanonical probabilities. First of all, the ergodic theorem demonstrates the equality of microcanonical phase averages and infinite time averages (albeit for a special class of systems, and up to a measure zero set of exceptions). Secondly, one argues that actual measurements of thermodynamic quantities yield time averaged quantities, since measurements take a long time. The combination of these (...) two points is held to be an explanation why calculating microcanonical phase averages is a successful algorithm for predicting the values of thermodynamic observables. It is also well-known that this account is problematic.
This survey intends to show that ergodic theory nevertheless may have important roles to play, and it explores three other uses of ergodic theory. Particular attention is paid, firstly, to the relevance of specific interpretations of probability, and secondly, to the way in which the concern with systems in thermal equilibrium is translated into probabilistic language. With respect to the latter point, it is argued that equilibrium should not be represented as a stationary probability distribution as is standardly done; instead, a weaker definition is presented. (shrink)
In the usual procedure of deriving equilibrium thermodynamics from classical statistical mechanics, Gibbsian fine-grained entropy is taken as the analogue of thermodynamical entropy. However, it is well known that the fine-grained entropy remains constant under the Hamiltonian flow. In this paper it is argued that we need not search for alternatives for fine-grained entropy, nor do we have to reject Hamiltonian dynamics, in order to solve the problem of the constancy of fine-grained entropy and, more generally, to account for the (...) non-equilibrium part of the laws of thermodynamics. Rather, we have to weaken the requirement that equilibrium be identified with a stationary probability distribution. (shrink)
Bohr and Heisenberg suggested that the thermodynamical quantities of temperature and energy are complementary in the same way as position and momentum in quantum mechanics. Roughly speaking their idea was that a definite temperature can be attributed to a system only if it is submerged in a heat bath, in which case energy fluctuations are unavoidable. On the other hand, a definite energy can be assigned only to systems in thermal isolation, thus excluding the simultaneous determination of its temperature. Rosenfeld (...) extended this analogy with quantum mechanics and obtained a quantitative uncertainty relation in the form ΔU Δ(1/T) ≥ k, where k is Boltzmann's constant. The two “extreme” cases of this relation would then characterize this complementarity between isolation (U definite) and contact with a heat bath (T definite). Other formulations of the thermodynamical uncertainty relations were proposed by Mandelbrot (1956, 1989), Lindhard (1986), and Lavenda (1987, 1991). This work, however, has not led to a consensus in the literature. It is shown here that the uncertainty relation for temperature and energy in the version of Mandelbrot is indeed exactly analogous to modern formulations of the quantum mechanical uncertainty relations. However, his relation holds only for the canonical distribution, describing a system in contact with a heat bath. There is, therefore, no complementarily between this situation and a thermally isolated system. (shrink)